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The Ravages Of Recession: Insomnia, Fear, Shame

In business, news on December 15, 2009 at 10:18 am

Today’s New York Times runs the result of polling of 708 people who are unemployed. It’s a deeply frightening and depressing read, especially in a nation where job loss and financial struggle also means the loss of health insurance, medical and dental care; this week, BBC World News is running a powerful series of radio interviews with Americans and those in nations with government-supplied health insurance. The contrast is also sadly powerful.

The Times’ poll finds that:

61 percent say their unemployment benefits don’t cover their basic necessities

46 percent say they feel embarrassed or ashamed to be out of work

71 percent say their financial situation is fairly or very bad

Perhaps most telling, 75 percent say they think it likely they’ll run out of unemployment benefits before they find another job:

But the impact on their lives was not limited to the difficulty in paying bills. Almost half said unemployment had led to more conflicts or arguments with family members and friends; 55 percent have suffered from insomnia.

“Everything gets touched,” said Colleen Klemm, 51, of North Lake, Wis., who lost her job as a manager at a landscaping company last November. “All your relationships are touched by it. You’re never your normal happy-go-lucky person. Your countenance, your self-esteem goes. You think, ‘I’m not employable.’ ”

A quarter of those who experienced anxiety or depression said they had gone to see a mental health professional. Women were significantly more likely than men to acknowledge emotional issues.

Tammy Linville, 29, of Louisville, Ky., said she lost her job as a clerical worker for the Census Bureau a year and a half ago. She began seeing a therapist for depression every week through Medicaid but recently has not been able to go because her car broke down and she cannot afford to fix it.

Her partner works at the Ford plant in the area, but his schedule has been sporadic. They have two small children and at this point, she said, they are “saving quarters for diapers.”

“Every time I think about money, I shut down because there is none,” Ms. Linville said. “I get major panic attacks. I just don’t know what we’re going to do.”


Here are some videos the Times collected, of people telling their own stories.

  1. I read this article in the Times yesterday and it is, indeed, frightening. As someone who was laid off in March and is currently back in school to change careers, I can certainly relate. I have the good fortune of having a husband with a good job and benefits, and my own money in the bank, but it is disconcerting to keep pulling from my savings to support myself. What this recession taught me, though, is that corporations aren’t interested in the well-being of their employees–I was a high-level executive who got two weeks’ severance. I was one of scores of people let go. Meantime, the CEO raked in over $10 million in compensation and gave himself and his lieutenants a raise. Lesson learned: become your own boss so you don’t have to suffer the indignities of being just a number on a spreadsheet.

  2. imho, thanks — and what a story. I agree with you that many/most corporate bosses couldn’t care less about their workers and the greed at the top is truly obscene. The other crucial lessons, I think are to always live below your means and consistently save 20%+ of your income so you have a cushion. Thank heaven you do have savings, no matter how annoying it is — and I’ve done this as well — to spend them. So many people have none!

    But I have to respectfully point out that self-employment, depending on a variety of factors isn’t a panacea, as I’m sure you’re aware. Some people loathe selling their services, no matter their skill level; some can’t handle the isolation, loneliness and lack of stimulation of working alone; there’s the 15% FICA tax you pay all on your own and — insane for those without a spouse or partner with insurance — the cost of buying health insurance.
    We were paying, in 2002, $700 a month in NY state for mine; since then I’ve been on my partner’s plan, thank heaven. That alone was adding a pre-tax overhead of $8,400 — a lot in my industry.

    • Agreed self-employment isn’t the answer for a lot of people, but I also believe there’s still quite a bit of sexism in corporate America, especially if you’re raising kids. How often have working moms out there felt like they couldn’t devote the time necessary to kiss up to bosses over drinks after work or golf so they could take on “the second shift”? I’m willing to trade the tax and accounting inconveniences to have the flexibility I need and the sense of accomplishment I want.

  3. I just want to note that the best way to trigger an “OMFG I’m unemployed” panic attack is to read about how unemployment triggers panic attacks. I especially love when the report is being delivered by a clearly overcompensated national news anchor who “feels” for me.

    If it sounds like I’m accusing THIS author of being less than genuine, I am not. The psychological effects of unemployment have been widely reported in the last couple of months, and I was referring to other reports I’ve seen on the Tee-Vee that I have a hard time finding sincere.

  4. imho, I hear you on this point. I don’t have kids but have still encountered the “second shift” in my own life and bumped up against plenty of sexism as well. Self-employment does mean, once some cash is flowing, you can fire the worst of the PITA clients and boy, does that feel good!

    datajunkie…I was canned from my Daily News job in June 2006 and gave up looking a long time for anything at that level in journalism a long time ago. This month was a terrifying time of waiting to find out if my partner (the one with health insurance) would lose his staff journalism job as well. He did not, fortunately. This time. I have a lot of empathy for anyone going through this.

  5. I’m glad to hear that your partner’s livelihood is secure.

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